Dubbo family serving God in Siberia
15 February 2016
Siberia is not generally the sort of place to which you would go for a relaxing holiday. By Australian climate standards, Siberia is freezing for six months of the year.
Mid-year can be quite pleasant, though, with mid-20 degree temperatures for a few months. Dubbo Salvation Army family Brett and Janene Phillips and their five children have actually chosen to go to Siberia. They have left behind in Dubbo an expansive four-bedroom home with big yard for a small two-bedroom apartment, which they rarely leave for six months of the year because it’s too cold to go outside.
Brett and Janene are first-generation Salvationists. As a young engaged couple, they walked into The Salvation Army centre in Dubbo 20 years ago looking for a church. They found what they wanted and stayed. They became soldiers. Brett became a youth leader and, with Janene and others, started a SAGALA youth program. He spent seven years as assistant manager of The Salvation Army Dubbo Family Store and opened a second shop. Janene worked at the community welfare centre and held a paid position as corps secretary. All of it is on hold now as Siberia and its orphans have overwhelmed their hearts.
Brett traces the interest in Siberia – especially its orphans – back to a shopping trip to a Christian bookstore in Canberra when he was captured by a brochure titled Love for Kids Russia. An international outreach group was inviting people to join its team for a two-week summer camp for kids in Russia. Brett was interested. But the trip was expensive. However, he easily found sponsors and attended a camp in St Petersburg for the first time in 2008 and then on each of the following three years. He recruited half-a-dozen other Australian Salvationists to go with him. He also took his young sons, Eli and Clayton. The short-term mission trips were enjoyable, but Brett knew in his heart that he needed to give more. During a 2012 trip with Janene, both felt called to move to Russia long-term to live and work among the locals. They met an Australian family operating a home for teenagers leaving orphanages. They were inspired by the example of the Australian family.
In September 2013, Brett, Janene and four children left Dubbo to live in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia’s third largest city with a population exceeding one million. “We came with many plans,” Brett says, “though they never seemed to happen as expected. Instead, totally unexpected and amazing things happened, which have been much greater and helped us avoid what would have been huge mistakes. What we’ve learned so far is that we just need to show up. God does the rest.”
Brett and Janene have been allowed into Russia on study visas. They study Russian at university. But their study has allowed them to help in a social program for young people in a very poor area of their town. The program has enabled them to interact with other Christians. “We were unexpectedly invited to visit one of the many local orphanages. It’s hard to explain how amazing that invitation was,” Brett says. “We were not attempting to gain access to orphanages, although we very much wanted to. It can be very difficult for foreigners to get a foot in the door.
“I was concerned that my view of Russian orphans and social problems was just a skewed, over-exaggerated Western perspective and that things were not really that bad, and that Russians are more than capable of dealing with it without outside help. However, I am constantly meeting Russians who feel desperate about the situation here – the drug and alcohol problem, the broken families, the social orphans and the harsh poverty. The people here constantly express their deep gratitude that we have come to try and help.
“There are so many opportunities here. It’s an area barely touched by mission-oriented organisations.”
Although they arrived in Russia as a family of six – Brett, Janene, Eli, Clayton, Layna and Amalia – they have unexpectedly grown to seven, with the arrival of Anna. The family returned to Dubbo mid-2014 for Anna’s birth, and embarked again for Russia last November. Each of the school-age children is doing the Australian school curriculum through distance education. The family travels by bus or on foot. There is no car. Due to living and retail conditions, grocery shopping has to be done on a daily basis.
“We get lonely here sometimes,” Brett adds. “Life can be pretty hard, especially coming from a comfortable existence in a beautiful country like Australia with a car, house, wage, private school, church, friends and family. But each little breakthrough here reminds us of God’s original calling to us and we are happy to stay. We survive on personal donations from family, friends and even strangers.”
“We have spiritual needs, too. We need spiritual support, leadership, recognition from our brothers and sisters back home, accountability partners, prayers, fundraisers and advisers. We would like to hear from individuals or corps who would engage with us in projects.”
To contact the Phillips family, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Bill Simpson